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Before commencing the swanky pre-assessment, I found myself meandering towards Stafford, an intriguing departure from the monotony of Stoke. With such titillating topography on display during the drive, one wonders why they ever hailed Stoke as… well, anything.

Yet, before the grand medical adventure began, I encountered the duel of notifications. A piece of parchment ceremoniously beckoned me for a 13:30 a.m. chat. In sharp contrast, the uber-modern NHS app, with its sleek design and probably too many push notifications, chirped about a seemingly more reasonable 11:15 a.m. date. Now, I have a pet peeve: lateness in any form. So, erring on the side of over-punctuality, I opted for the earlier rendezvous.

Upon rolling into Stafford’s confines, a revelation unfolded. Parking. And not just any parking—abundant, luxurious, choose-your-own-adventure parking. For someone accustomed to vying for spots in vehicular gladiator arenas, this was the automotive equivalent of a spa day.

Our majestic entrance was delightfully interrupted by a meet-and-greet enthusiast who had likely been sipping a tad too much espresso. With an effervescent once-over of my documents, she zoomed off, with us in comic pursuit, toward what seemed to be the beating heart of this medical metropolis. Think circular Star Trek space station meets NHS— expansive hub and spoke layout, and teeming with possibilities.

Navigating this central hub felt akin to wandering a cosmic mall, where every corridor beaconed with signposts, presumably ensuring even the lost sheep among us could, theoretically, find pasture. Once our young guide, having achieved her Fitbit step goal, deposited us at our supposed destination and vanished, I proudly presented myself. To which the receptionist, without missing a beat, delivered the age-old refrain: “You’re in the wrong place.”

Slightly crestfallen but ever-determined, directions were procured—mainly targeting Helen because, by now, everyone had discovered that I couldn’t find north in a compass shop.

Now, onto the appointment. The menu? A “snappy” chat about the so-chic cocktail of Ipi-Nivo (immunotherapy’s answer to the latest in couture), an ECG and an invitation to yet another bloodsucking soirée.

At the correct ward (finally), I presented my blood test form with a flourish.
“You’re very early” she observed, before examining the forms with scrutiny. Its cryptic glyphs, scrawled in doctor’s shorthand, clearly confounding our nurse. And the newest twist? Drawing blood now requires a computer. It’s like Silicon Valley meets Dracula.

This meant selecting the correct test from a huge dropdown of hundreds of available tests. From Albumin and Alanine aminotransferase to Zinc level and Zika virus. The nurse muttered something about being unable to read the doc’s writing while trying to find something called probnp like a password she’d forgotten, as she scrolled up and down the dropdown list. After a minute or so, I suggested that perhaps there would be a search function she could use. That could make things easier.
Instead, she called on the ward Sister to assist in her treasure hunt. Confidence rose, then fell again, as Sister also failed to illicit the correct name from the list despite using the search function. Channelling my inner Sherlock, I tapped into Google’s infinite wisdom, gleaning that NT-proBNP was probably the key.  An established diagnostic test for heart failure and its management. It has a very high diagnostic sensitivity for HF such that a normal result is useful for excluding its presence. High levels are associated with a poor prognosis and indicate the need for urgent referral and management.

However, as we forged ahead, an eerie sense of déjà vu permeated the air. The next test’s name, whispered like a forbidden incantation, evaded my ears. A trio—our nurse, the Sister, and now a Specialist Cancer Nurse answered the rallying call, but their confidence still didn’t exactly inspire. In the recesses of my imagination, I mused whether a lab technician, upon examining my samples, might be left scratching their head over a male patient simultaneously flirting with heart failure whilst toying with the idea of being pregnant. But ah, the quirks of modern medicine.

Just as we were wrapping things up with the ever-efficient phlebotomist, my journey transitioned to an ECG room. This was shortly followed by an educational, and thankfully brisk, PowerPoint dive into the realm of Ipi-Nivo. While it was termed ‘condensed’, the presentation managed to comprehensively cover the gamut of side effects, which, as I’ve alluded to before, were rather extensive. Nevertheless, I was thankful for the succinct delivery—less is more when the topic is daunting.

But the true highlight of my day in Stafford? The announcement that in a mere few days, I’d be commencing my Ipi-Nivo treatment. Finally, a tangible step forward!

If you’ve gallantly soldiered on through my ramblings to this point, I salute your indefatigable spirit and thank you for your tenacity.
You know those emotional rollercoaster rides watching Children in Need on TV? Just as you’re getting comfy, perhaps even chuckling at some playful segment, they introduce a heart-rending video of little Timmy who apparently moonlights as a chimney sweep and snacks on lumps of coal.

Now, brace yourself for my moment of earnestness.

Enter stage right: my phenomenal friend Lynda and her equally wonderful partner in crime, Barry. They reacted to my illness news with all the expected care, concern, and comfort, as any good friends would. But Lynda? Oh, she’s no mere mortal. Picture a mashup between the Bionic Woman and that ever-energetic Duracell Bunny. She didn’t just stop at well-wishes. No, at the sprightly age of, well let’s just say she’s no longer the spring chicken she once was (sorry Lynda), she’s embraced the audacious plan of taking on a half marathon, all to raise a pretty penny for yours truly and the life-changing charity, OcumelUK.

So here’s the nudge (or the shameless arm-twist). Fancy supporting a legend? If you’re feeling the least bit charitable or just impressed by Lynda’s unyielding zest for life, swing by THIS LINK. Even a modest donation in Lynda’s direction would be fabulous. Cheers!


While you're here, it would be lovely if you could support OcuMel by visiting the link below.